Thursday, November 29, 2012

Who are you?

Typical monthly stats.
I recently posted my 100th entry on this blog. Sally and I are about to start our 3rd year together on December 2nd (time flies). I thought it would be interesting to share some of the inside blogging numbers with you.

I started this as a project just to keep some notes on our flights and concerns about Light Sport Aviation. I'm surprised about the number of people that have taken the time to read it. I'm even more surprised at the international interest.

I only expect to post a few more entries this year. The weather is getting lousy for VFR flying and the Christmas Holidays will be a distraction (which I will thoroughly enjoy.)  I hope you enjoy the coming weeks as well and can take the opportunity to go out and fly.

Thanks for reading. I hope next year will be even more interesting.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

As I write this its snowing, the first of the season. Most local airports are LIFR with Snow/Fog causing very limited visibility. Non-aviators tend to call it pretty, but it isn't. We are grounded.

The flight line at 7N8
It was interesting getting back into the routine of flying short local flights. Without a defined mission, or objective to be achieved I engaged in a more casual approach to each flight. Still checking weather and TFRs, but only for the afternoon. The weather system making its way across the Midwest has no interest, instead I focus on the local airports and primarily look for the winds. I've decided to keep my wind limit at 18kts for a No Go decision. Sally and I fly for fun, if it starts gusting over 18kts, well, its a lot less fun. I have found that I am using my Nexus tablet for planning. I'm starting to like Garmin Pilot, and as the updates continue to refresh and improve the code, I'm beginning to use it more often for preflight planning.

I really LIKE my new prop! Sally seems to leap off the runway now taking much less time to get up to 40kts. 65kts seems to have the nose a bit higher and I find I'm compensating by letting her get into a 'cruise climb' a bit earlier. Speed tests show about 5kts increase in TAS for level flight. She just feels more solid, substantial...smooth.

Nate and Stephanie were able to share Thanksgiving with us. When we got up on "Black Friday" the weather was...'iffy'. No TFRs and ceilings were good, but visibility was less than 5 miles and in many places IFR. Fortunately by mid morning the temperature (in the 50F range) had started to rise above the dew point and the local METARs indicated the improvement by most showing 5 to 7 miles. We left for Butter Valley about 10:00am.

Nate has spent a lot of time around airplanes. He jumped right in helping with the preflight. I took care of the Rotax, checking the oil (burp), water, and overall integrity while he did the walk-around. After I pulled her out of the barn I explained that it was very important to do a "F-O-D" walk down past the old silo to insure there was nothing that would get caught by my new prop. I usually find a golf ball or two, and routinely check to insure the ground maintenance crew hasn't stowed a bag of fertilizer on my taxiway. This time we found a bicycle from a visitor who had stopped by to visit with Harry.

I briefed that we would depart 7N8, climb to a safe altitude and do some stalls, then over to KUKT for a landing, then back home. Nate works on FMS at Honeywell and is interested in avionics, so I also briefed him on the Dynon glass and autopilot. He did very well with the high work and Sally showed him a nice clean stall with a straight ahead break. I emphasized that it is what it might feel like when trying to extend a glide on final. His pattern work was fine, even did the landing back home with out my hands on the controls (well, they were pretty close).

Stephanie had waited in the restaurant enjoying a hot cup of tea. She just wanted a local tour. I tried not to be too "talky" and let her enjoy the ride. Unfortunately the visibility wasn't great so we didn't see a lot. When she did take control she did well, turning the aircraft without any issues. All too soon it was time to go back to the barn.

Friday night a cold front came through. Winds were blustering. We were grounded.

It must have been a successful flight. Nate wanted to know what I thought about a SportStar. They rent one at KSDL.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lessons Learned - KSDL Trip

Sally over the Big Ditch

Some pictures from our trip: here.
  1. MVFR - Marginal Visual Flight Rules; means visibility less than 5 miles and/or ceilings lower than 3000'. Normally this would be "No Go" for me. We took off on our first leg of the trip in MVFR conditions. While not recommended, this can be a "Go" decision IF you are flying into improving weather. We successfully navigated around some rain showers and were headed toward rising ceilings. It worked out well.
  2. Endurance - how long can we fly? Sally can fly longer than I can. The KAFJ to KMTO leg was really hard on me, but it was early in the trip and I was excited about reaching my first overnight stop. The KGNT to KSDL was also hard due to end of day into the haze. Better planning and awareness of my own limitations might have included an additional stop. 2 Hours (@ 100 MPH) is a good planning number. 
  3. Packing for Sally - If anything I over packed for me. Plenty of T-shirts and jeans with one set of "nice" clothes for going out. I thought I packed well for Sally. Tie downs, chocks, covers and plugs but I also should have packed an extra bottle of oil. You just can't get Aeroshell Sport Plus everywhere.
  4. Autopilot - Sally flies very well here on the east coast. Mountain flying is different. She just couldn't keep up with the rapid updrafts and downdrafts. Just click the altitude hold off and ride the waves. +/- 500' is just fine.
  5. Density Altitude - Over 8,000' for one take off. Full tanks, full baggage and me, that's a lot to haul. Sally did fine but the climb was less than 500 FPM. Check and understand the impact of high/hot/humid and be prepared to react accordingly (or not go at all.)
  6. Cash - At least take enough for a full tank of gas. Only one place didn't take credit cards, and he was willing for me to mail him a check. Fortunately my wife insisted I take more than the $50 I was planning.
  7. Turbulence - It got very bouncy out there at times. Remember that when packing. It wouldn't be good to have a laptop or tablet come flying at the canopy from its 'stowed' position in the back. I used a cargo net to cover everything in the back except my snacks and a small overnight bag.
  8. Flight Following - use it.
  9. Mountain Obscuration - The clouds are low but you can see the tops of the mountains. It should be good enough to go, but is it?  Know the tops of the mountains and expect some new cell towers to be put up there. Listen to the forecast closely. I had decided that if caught in IFR I was going to climb to get out instead of trying to maneuver over the mountains. So, better know where the tops of the clouds are. Another consideration was my choice of alternate. Had I chosen a stop beyond the ridges at KUNV it might have been an easier decision with fewer obstacles. 
  10. When to fly - Convection in the desert is a big deal. Add to that the mountain waves and the afternoon can get pretty interesting. We flew over the Grand Canyon in the morning and had a very smooth enjoyable flight. We flew up to Page in the afternoon...not so smart.

Descent into KSEZ

*This should be my last post on the trip. Time to start thinking about the next adventure.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

at US Sport Aircraft

Richard had sent me a note about some nose strut problems at his flight school. I read another about a strut failure in Europe. I contacted Ft Pierce who forwarded my note to Patrick in Addison. I was a little concerned about Sally's nose strut. Lately I had noticed that there was some wear on the wheel pant from the strut rubbing against it. Patrick responded that I had nothing to worry about as long as the strut cleared the pant. Hmmmm.

I sent some pictures and discussed the situation. It didn't look TOO bad, but... So the concern took root in my brain, something to keep an eye on.

During the conversation we also discussed the wear and tear my prop was taking. The leading edge tape had some good nicks in it. He quoted me a good price and planted that seed in my brain. As I planned my return trip from Scottsdale it occurred to me that I should plan on an oil change, by that time the trip would be over the recommended 25 hours when using AVGAS. The pieces started to come together so I added KADS to my flight plan.

I called Patrick the week prior to my planned arrival to make sure he was ready for me. I also needed to get some taxi directions to US Sport Aircraft after landing. Everything was arranged. The new prop was in and he would do the oil change. It should take less than a day to get her all buttoned up.

As mentioned in a previous post, the flight in was great, testing my skills working with controllers flying at night into congested airspace. The accommodations were superb, a Hilton Garden less than 10 minutes away. I slept soundly.

When I called the next morning work was well underway. The engine compartment was filthy, they cleaned it. The original overflow bottle was a, it was substandard. They changed it. They asked if my POH had the latest revisions, I'll get a new one. A binder was created with all maintenance information well organized including all Service Bulletins. Nice.

I asked about the canopy seal. A, we'll send you a new, improved one. He showed me the new Air Conditioners and we talked about inadequate heating. He has some good suggestions for that. Canopy alignment, we'll take care of that. Every question addressed, and with an attitude that we want to make Sally better than new. Nice.

The nose strut was worse than expected but not as bad as it might be. He had some ideas about repairs, but this would delay my departure. I made arrangements to stay an extra day.

So as long as we have the time... Completed the Annual, tuned the engine, washed, waxed and vacuumed Sally. (Even added a few spots of touch up paint.) ...and ultimately changed out the nose strut. Ouch. ( I honestly don't remember ever 'pranging' her in. Though unlikely, I think it could have been done horsing her around in the snow. In any case I just couldn't leave thinking that I could put a new prop on without protecting it with the new strut.)

This was great experience. True professionals who understand customer service. Because they are pilots, they understand pilots. I look forward to doing this again.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reviewing the Numbers

The trip to Scottsdale
  • Distance = 2059 miles
  • Time (GPS not Hobbs) = 20.5 hours
  • Fastest leg = 109 MPH (7N8 to KAFJ)
  • Longest leg = 427 miles (KAFJ to KMTO) at 4.1 hours*. This was my longest time in the seat for any leg of the trip.

The trip from Scottsdale (via Addison)

  • Distance = 2204 miles
  • Time (GPS not Hobbs) = 17.9 hours
  • Fastest leg = 145 MPH* (KARG to I69) Top speed for the trip.
  • Longest leg = 444 miles* (KATS to KADS) at 3.5 hours. This was my greatest distance for any leg of the trip.
Total round trip distance was 4263 miles, 38.4 hours for an average of 111 MPH (ground speed). I spent ~ $1500 for ~ 260 gallons of fuel, which yields ~ 16 MPG. (Cheapest at KADS for MOGAS.) Sally reached a new record altitude of 11720' over the Grand Canyon. The new prop yielded a new speed record 123 kts TAS. As noted above, a new endurance record for Sally at 4.1 hours (too long).

Mission Objectives:

  1. Fly solo VFR on a significant cross country. Check
  2. Meet with family in Phoenix. Check
  3. Fly to AOPA Summit and do the parade. Failed (Wx delayed departure)
  4. Fly to the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. Sally couldn't go, but the rest of us did.
  5. Fly to LSA Fly-in at Page, Az. Check
  6. New propeller for Sally. Check+

We flew at night (KADS). We flew through snow (KAFJ to KMTO). We landed and took off at an 8300' DA airport (KGNT). We flew through rain and avoided mountain obscuration (KUNV). We flew in turbulence (constantly out there) and landed in high winds (KATS). We landed on the USS Sedona (KSEZ). We learned new limitations. We expanded our envelope.

But the greatest thing I take away from the trip are the great people we met. Fifteen miles out, an hour before closing I call the FBO and tell them I'll be spending the night. I'm met with a Cadillac, given the keys and asked when I'll be back (KWWR). NOT an unusual case! Time after time I was met with friendship and a strong willingness to help in any way possible. The Fly-in at Page (KPGA) just another example where total strangers have become good friends.

There may be something wrong with General Aviation, but I'm here to tell you, there is also a lot right.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

from Scottsdale

All too soon it was time to leave. Nate drove me out to the airport early Sunday morning. We finished packing Sally, went into the FBO to settle our account (Landmark Aviation had been a superb host) and sat at the computer for flight planning. Lockheed didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, no TFRs, no significant weather, no important NOTAMS to worry about. Once more around the plane and Nate and I made our goodbyes and I buckled in. I pushed the Trip button after a smooth start, called ground and taxied out. Sally and I thanked KSDL for their hospitality and departed to the east.
Final packing before departing KSDL

I climbed to 7500' but quickly realized that wouldn't cut it. After awhile we climbed to 9500' to clear a range of mountains and soon after ATC asked us to go up to 11,500' to stay in radar coverage. Slight quartering tailwinds didn't help us much but the skies were clear and the view was gorgeous. I had chosen a southern route to take advantage of the valleys and more favorable terrain. Just a few peaks were still above us and it was easy to choose a course around them. Before too long the first fuel stop came into view with winds down the runway at 22 kts. Funny how that now seemed relatively mild.

South east to EWM over to WHOLE to avoid White Sands
Topped her off, stretched my legs and climbed back in. Soon we were heading east again and as I climbed to 7500' I called for Flight Following. White Sands was active, what were my intentions? I love my 696. I wasn't going over it, too far to divert to the north, so I said I would stay south. He offered some way points at EVM and WHOLE to keep me clear so I plugged them into the flight plan. I told him I would fly the route as advised, pushed the autopilot buttons and settled in. We were getting beat up at this altitude so once again I asked for and received clearance (maintain VFR) for 9500'. Still turbulent but a little more comfortable but too much for Sally. I clicked off altitude hold and hand flew. Soon I got a DSAB error telling me we were not linked to the GPS. I switched to heading mode and made minor corrections to stay on course. With nothing else to do I tried DSAB reconfiguration which would work for awhile but fail time and again.

It was about noon when I hit my head on the canopy. The ridge really didn't look to be all that impressive. The chart said the peaks were less than 4500', but with convective heating and gusty winds the effect on Sally was major. A few more bumps and we were clear, and my heart went back to a normal rhythm.

My fuel calculations were looking good. I would need to make one stop before KADS instead of two. So I started checking weather and decided to make the one coming up and skip the next. (IF things changed I could always add it back in.) Winds at 26 kts this time...that had my attention. As I turned on final I felt like Sally stopped. Our roll-out was probably ten feet, and I was very cautious with the taxi over to the FBO, making sure I didn't get a wing lifted by the stiff breeze. I chose full service this time. This place was under major repair. Cabinets were pulled off of the walls, the desk was in the middle of the floor and stacks of sheet rock were lined up in the hallway to the rest rooms. The temporary Sunday afternoon help took awhile to figure out the credit card machine, but the price was good so no complaints.

Eastbound again and enjoying some 20kt tailwinds at 5500'. We would definitely make Addison without additional fuels stops. Heading east you lose daylight. We would reach our destination after dark. This could get interesting. I played with the DSAB and found that after doing a reconfiguration and resetting the autopilot power switch my error went away. I flew the next hour or so without any problems.

I like flying at night. I just don't get to do it very often because my home field really doesn't have a good light system. After the sun goes down the air get calm and other airplanes become much easier to see. Airports are usually easier to see as well due to their lights and beacons. Sally's instrument lighting is great. The Dynons auto-adjust and the 696 is easy to dim for low light conditions. I pulled a flashlight out of my bag, checked it and sat on it. I was ready.

ATC handed me over to regional control, and I made a step down descent to 2000' to stay beneath the Class B shelf. I was told to continue east until past the dam, then turn onto the final approach course and announce any changes in altitude. What dam? The 696 showed a dark spot to the east and seeing no lights I assumed it was a reservoir. The 696 provides runway extensions so turning on course was easy. I left the autopilot on and let Sally hold altitude while I used the heading knob to make turns. Regional Control was very busy and decided to give me a box to fly to get me out of the way for faster traffic...a Cessna Citation.

Back on course he thanked me for my cooperation and told me to let him know when I had the field in sight. Eh, 7 miles out and I don't see it. Lot's of city lights but nothing I can identify as an airport! Patience. The first thing I saw was the beacon, then the beautiful threshold lights. A great landing followed. A short taxi over to US Sport Aircraft and we were done for the night. What a GREAT ride! (I would later find out, after talking to other pilots, that KADS is notoriously hard to find at night.)

Patrick made wonderful arrangements for me. I'll talk about the fantastic service in another post, but suffice to say Sally is like a new airplane. The new prop is wonderful and she really runs...smooth. I am delighted.

We departed Wednesday late in the morning I enjoyed executing the ground procedures and getting Flight Following set up before taxi. Once airborne I was forced to stay at 2000' feet until I cleared the traffic area, then found a hole in the broken layer and climbed up to 5500' on top. She sounds different. I can't hear the RPM changes like before so have to pay a bit more attention to the tachometer when leveling off. She is about 5kts faster and she is ....smooth. I feel a difference but don't know another way to say it. Smooth.

After two hours I was feeling the fatigue so decided to make KARG my overnight stop. Walnut Ridge is an old WW2 training base that has gone through a number of evolutions to become a GA airport. The runways are gigantic and at one time serviced 747's. (One reason I chose this during my planning was a NOTAM stating 747s can't land here...what's up with that?) Just as I prepared to make my position call the batteries in my headset failed. That gets your attention. I cannibalized my flashlight and was soon back to Active Noise Cancelling.

I was given the crew van, directed to the Days Inn in Pocahontas. They honored my military discount and were helpful with directions for an evening meal, but as I drove down the road I spotted a Sonic! Pocahontas has a SONIC! Worked for me.

An 8:00am start with a climb to 3500' under an overcast. Soon I found a hole and climbed on top to level at 7500'. Smooth sailing into Clermont County (I69) and a visit to Sporty's. It's OK, just OK. The catalog has much more stuff in it. After buying my stuff in Addison, there really wasn't any temptation to open my wallet again. I grabbed an ice cream sandwich out of a vending machine and sat down to do some planning. Three hours from home but KPTW was IFR. A call home confirmed low ceilings and light rain so I planned for an alternate at KUNV.

Smooth air at 5500' and no obvious clue that weather in eastern Pennsylvania was lousy. Permission to pass through the Pittsburgh Class B shortened my trip into University Park and I landed well before dark. Great service by the FBO. I caught the shuttle to the Holiday Inn Express, the aviation discount a few dollars better than my discount. I got a (well deserved) rib eye at the nearby Outback.

Friday I woke up to fog. Dense ugly fog. The weather briefer was optimistic for the afternoon so I had a good hotel breakfast (biscuits and gravy) and waited for awhile before going back to the FBO. I watched the low ceilings as the shuttle took me back to the airport. Light winds and good visibility, but the clouds hung low over the mountains. The briefer called it 'Mountain Obscuration", which really meant 'forget about it'. He expected improvement by 2:00.

At 1:30 I did what turned out to be a test flight.A few miles from the airport the clouds reached down and hid the mountain ridge to the left, and light rains veiled the ridge to the right. I did a "RTB" to wait for better conditions.

At 3:00 I tried again, and this time was able to avoid the trouble spots and get safely home. A nice landing at Butter Valley, I checked the trip time at 20:56*. What an adventure.
2,204 miles

* A check flight was done at KADS to check on all maintenance (0.5). I did a weather check flight at KUNV (0.6).